Romans 1:8-17: The Gospel is Jesus

The Gospel is JesusWe use different words to describe faith.  We trust the 911 operator will direct our call to the closest fire station.  We rely on the bank manager to keep the ATM filled with enough money when we drive up to withdraw 20 bucks.  We believe a close friend will not betray a confidential conversation.  Faith or belief, rely on or trust: all words to describe what we call “faith.”  Those words all express the confidence we place in someone or something.

Faith can also be misplaced.  You need to replace a light bulb, and you should go and bring back the ladder.  You grab a nearby roller chair with wheels because you’re lazy.  You think you can stand on such an unstable, tottering platform to replace the burned-out bulb.  On the cushion, you step and start to unscrew the—and the chair whisks away from under you.  Thud!  Your back still creaks from the fall when you tumbled to the floor so long ago.

To put your faith in a roller chair to be a stable ladder is an idiot taking over your life.  You put faith in another driver to stop at the red light but find yourself slamming on the brakes to avoid an accident.  A 911 operator doesn’t think an emergency call is real and the news reports a murder the next day.

You believe your friend will guard your secret, but averting eyes and glances from others tell you otherwise.  You trust your money in the soundness of our financial markets and invest in mutual funds.  The market crashes and you lose half of your retirement.  Yes, we can put our trust where we should not, whether a place or person.

Faith in the right place or person matters.  In our daily lives, in our spiritual lives, in whom or what we put our trust does matter.  We want to hold on to what will bring us eternal life, not eternal death.  We want to believe in what brings us salvation beyond death and grave, not condemnation.

The Apostle Paul deals with the same topic: what will give us a right standing with God to bring life and salvation.  Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel.  Why?  The Gospel is God’s power for salvation.  From before our conception to our bodies rising from death, God does the saving.

Paul starts off his letter to Rome with a bold confession of the Gospel, which always begins with what God does.  In the beginning, after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God promised an Offspring, a Descendant, who would crush Satan’s head.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a Child who will be born one day, who will also be the Son given.  He will come to be God’s servant to suffer for His people.  Others will beat, bloody, and bruise Him, but His death will bring us life.  The prophets of old all yearned for the day the Messiah would come and bring salvation to the world.

Those promises came true in Jesus.  God is faithful.  He sends His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, a Descendant who can trace his family history back to King David, and earlier.  God’s faithfulness sent His Son to save us.  Salvation descended to earth in Jesus, who came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many.  Jesus crushed Satan’s head, and He is Lord of all.

The Gospel is Jesus.  Paul is not ashamed to tell anyone and everyone—his faith is in Jesus Christ!  For Jesus is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes in this Lord.  Paul will rely on Jesus and Jesus alone for life eternal.  He is trusting in this Savior to put him in God’s graces.  Paul’s faith tethers itself to Jesus.

We confessed the same truth in the hymn we sang before this sermon.  We echoed Paul’s words in our epistle reading.  Listen again to the first stanza of “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus.”  “I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee, trusting Thee for full salvation, great and free.”

Faith relies on Jesus and believes all is right with God the Father because of Him.  Faith does not gaze within, to itself, for salvation, which would be trusting in your faith, not Jesus.  Your faith is in Jesus, not what you bring to the table.  The temptation is always to rely on something else besides Jesus.

Sometimes, you trust in your faith instead of Jesus.  What you believe didn’t pay for your sins.  Your faith didn’t die on the cross.  Jesus did, which is why you rely on what He did and does to save you.  Faith anywhere else is misplaced.

A hearty optimism often stirs within us.  Most of our movies and books finish with a happy ending.  We believe life will turn out well in the end.  We bring our culture into the Church, assuming the same happy ending with God.

Some say hell doesn’t exist.  Everyone is going to heaven, so why worry?  Some say as long as you try to do what’s right, God will welcome you home.  Oh, of course, serial murderers, terrorists, or rapists will be left out, but everyone else will be all right.  Can we trust this sunny optimism about what God will do because we assume so?

Perhaps, you’re tempted by how some teachers marked our report cards when we went to school.  You hope the teacher will grade on a curve.  I can do better than most of my classmates, so I’ll receive an A or, at worst, a B.  To find a passing grade on your report card will be no problem.

So, we hope God will grade on a curve, as well.  We can tell we are doing better than the people in prison.  We don’t try to scam others out of their money.  We’re not power-hungry politicians.  God will put us in the upper half of the population, right?

Don’t rely on how virtuous you think you are in God’s eyes.  God doesn’t grade on a curve because we wish Him to do so.  Do you realize what’s happening?  We’re starting to put our faith in some popular notion about God instead of what God tells us is true.  We’re relying on how worthy we are instead of God’s faithfulness shown to us in Jesus.  A giant mistake, much worse than changing the light bulb in the roller chair.

Do you remember the one, old-school teacher, a stickler for everything right?  He cares little if you like him or not.  His job is to teach you.  So, he grades you based on what you earn.  No curve.  He doesn’t care if the entire class makes an A or fails.  Each receives what he deserves according to the teacher’s standard.  He gave you butterflies in your stomach.

Now, let’s move to our spiritual lives.  God is the stickler of a teacher, who gives you what you earn according to His standard.  You need to be perfect and receive an A.  Such perfection isn’t only in what you do but in who you are.  So, unless you are born without sin and never sin, you will never earn the needed A.

Such dour news is not to depress you but point you to Jesus.  He achieved the A grade, and the Father accepts what He did, crediting what Jesus did to you.  Only Jesus earned the A grade, which is why salvation only exists in Him and no one else.  Many roads to heaven do not exist, for others made those paths, who failed to earn the needed grade.

Jesus told His Apostles: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  The wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).  I’ll go with Jesus, not sunny optimism, not trying to be worthy enough, or relying on some other path to heaven.

Think of your righteousness with God in this way.  Travel back to Easter morning.  The women come to finish embalming Jesus’ body, but they discover an open tomb, for the giant stone sealing His tomb is rolled away.

With power over death and grave, God sent the Spirit to raise Jesus from of the dead.  The stone tells us Jesus is no longer dead but risen from death.  The empty tomb reveals He is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.  God displayed His faithfulness on Easter’s glorious morning.

Our church bears the name “Lutheran.”  We identify with this name, not because our faith is in Luther, but in the Christ whom Luther trusted.  The book of Romans changed his life, bringing him to understand faith and salvation.

In 1546, Luther lay dying, approaching the last moments of his life.  Now 62 years old, he spent the last 30 years of his life fighting for the truth: Jesus Christ saves us.  We don’t contribute to our salvation.  Jesus alone makes us right with God.

On the day he died, a friend, Justus Jonas, went to Martin: “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you taught?”  “Yes!”  Later, someone discovers a crumpled piece of paper with these words in Luther’s hand: “We are beggars, this is true.”

A beggar doesn’t sound like the right way to be.  Still, Luther is correct.  For we bring nothing, which can save us—if we did, salvation wouldn’t be a gift.  Jesus, only Jesus, for salvation full and free.  Amen.